It had been over seven years since I had gone scuba diving when I got onto a speedboat on Bali. I had heard that getting back underwater was like riding a bike, that it would all come back to me – and without all that tiresome pedaling. My destination was the nearby island of Nusa Penida, located about halfway between Bali’s east coast and Lombok. My objective was to see giant manta rays in action.
If you’re staying on Bali, a dive trip to Nusa Penida is most easily arranged from the east coast. Many hotels can book you on a tour, and if you’d rather go it alone, just stop in to one of the myriad tour agencies sprinkled around the shopping districts, or even the dive operators’ offices themselves. The aptly-named Manta Point will be one of your options and a two-tank dive should cost you roughly $100-$120 U.S. Chances are, this will be your most expensive tour, so budget accordingly.
My particular operator drove guests to their boat, which was moored at gentle Sanur Beach on the east side of the island. From there it was a choppy 45 minute ride to the hulking silhouette on the horizon.
The island of Nusa Penida can also be visited by non-divers as well, but be warned that though there is a nice beach on the southern shore, waves and currents are strong. If you don’t believe me, just look at the towering cliffs being pummeled by spray.
Manta Point is close to the aforementioned spray-pummeled cliffs, and if you made it through the crossing without throwing up, get ready for your breakfast to make a reappearance once your forward motion stops and the boat starts pitching and rolling. I’m quite proud to say I made it to the end of my second dive before my breakfast revisited me.
Why are manta rays so consistently found here? It’s because of the existence of what is called a cleaning station. In basic terms, this means that the mantas know that over a certain large dome of coral located here, smaller fish will emerge as they cruise by, ‘cleaning’ them by eating any parasites and dead skin they might be carrying around. This is sort of like a fly-by shower, or drive through cleaning service. It is also a great reason for us to visit, as mantas are usually here in numbers.
Visibility was around 50 feet or so when I splashed down. As promised, my dive training and instincts came back to me as I eagerly peered into the blue. For this I was glad, because when I saw the first of what turned out to be a dozen mantas gracefully swooping around a large coral patch, my only focus was on them.
The site is rather shallow, allowing for long bottom times and plenty of opportunities to see the mantas up close. These particular mantas were at least 12 feet across and the same if not longer from head to tail. It’s quite humbling to be in the presence of animals so much bigger than you. It’s also kind of flattering to know that you’re not the fattest thing in the ocean.
For their part, the mantas are rather undisturbed by the daily presence of divers, and on several occasions I got very close – almost so that I could touch one – though I would heartily recommend that you avoid doing that. They may not eat you, but these are wild animals all the same. Content yourself with a bucket list experience of observing these majestic creatures up close, and for everyone’s sake keep your hands to yourself.
With a dozen mantas swirling around you, it’s hard to drag your attention away. But if you do, you will not only see swarms of colorful fish darting around various types of coral, but other denizens of the deep like turtles, stingrays, and if you’re truly fortunate, a mola mola, or ocean sunfish (think a fish, dinosaur and dinner plate all fused together).
Good to Know
Besides the potential of seasickness, be aware that currents are often strong. In practical terms, that means that you will be exerting lots of energy as the wave action pulls and pushes you (and the mantas) back and forth. It is not an easy dive by any means. You will come up tired, nauseous, and likely low on air, but if you are dive certified, thinking of becoming dive certified, and are planning a trip to Bali, you will not regret a trip out to Nusa Penida and back. Take comfort in knowing that you can take your own shower at your hotel.